NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has spent nearly two years in space circling Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid. Now, it has successfully helped NASA gather samples from an asteroid in space for the very first time.
In a momentous milestone for space exploration, the spacecraft’s robotic arm was able to grab pieces of the space rock to be brought back to Earth for study. The pieces will arrive back on Earth in September 2023.
Researchers hope pieces of the asteroid will divulge new details about life in our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Precious materials from the asteroid’s surface, as well as its chemical makeup, could offer valuable and undisturbed insights into how our solar system came to be.
While this is NASA’s first acquisition of samples from a space asteroid, the very first collection honor belongs to Japan, which gathered material from the Itokawa asteroid in 2010 and again from the Ryugu asteroid last year.
OSIRIS-REx orbited the planet at about 2,500 feet before descending to the asteroid’s surface on a 4 1/2 hour collection trip. In total, the robotic arm gathered 2 ounces of rubble from the asteroid’s surface.
The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 and took roughly two years to reach Bennu, which is 200 million miles away from Earth. In addition to providing insights into the early days of our solar system, the asteroid could also help provide in-depth information about the movement of these space features and even help researchers prevent one from striking Earth.
Image Source: NASA